Many theories have existed and evolved over time to attempt to grasp the reasons for unrestrained (and often unrestrainable) violence in human society. Therefore, domestic violence can affect anyone of any age or gender. Whether it’s physical or psychological, domestic abuse is destructive for both the battered and the batterer. Its tendency to be passed down over generations makes it all the more important that we develop effective methods for combating abuse.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), domestic violence is the intentional physical assault, intimidation, battery, sexual assault, and/or use of other threatening behavior by one member of a household against another. Other less obvious forms of abusive behavior include stalking, the use of threatening looks or gestures, attempts to control the reproductive health of an intimate partner (for example, refusing to use contraception during intercourse), and displays of psychological aggression such as putting down, humiliating, or isolating an intimate partner .
Domestic violence often has a ripple effect that tears through the fabric of the victim’s life. The psychological, emotional, and social impacts of domestic violence can linger long after the violence has subsided, and even after the victim has left the abusive partner.
The National Center for PTSD, a prominent research and education organization that studies the psychological effects of trauma, has identified several scenarios that indicate red flags in an unhealthy relationship. An unhealthy relationship may be indicated when one partner:
- Has complete control of all household finances.
- Limits or completely closes off the other partner’s social life. He or she may isolate the other partner from friends and family.
- Consistently threatens to ruin the reputation of the other partner, especially after he or she has expressed a desire to end the relationship.
- Repeatedly tries to scare the other by breaking things, punching holes in the wall, and hurting or threatening to hurt pets.
- Systematically evokes feelings of guilt or shame in the other partner.
These types of coercive and controlling behaviors are often present in cases of domestic violence, and can have a profound impact on how a victim of abuse is able to function socially, even after leaving an abusive relationship. If an individual is financially dependent on his or her abusive partner, any decision to escape the abuse carries with it the real possibility of homelessness .
Social theories look at external factors in the offender’s environment, such as family structure, stress, social learning, and includes rational choice theories. For example, social learning theory suggests that people learn from observing and modeling after others’ behavior. With positive reinforcement, the behavior continues. If one observes violent behavior, one is more likely to imitate it. If there are no negative consequences (e. g. victim accepts the violence, with submission), then the behavior will likely continue .
Furthermore, power and control in abusive relationships is the way that abusers exert physical, sexual and other forms of abuse to gain control within relationships. A causalist view of domestic violence is that it is a strategy to gain or maintain power and control over the victim. This view is in alignment with Bancroft’s “cost-benefit” theory that abuse rewards the perpetrator in ways other than, or in addition to, simply exercising power over his or her target(s). He cites evidence in support of his argument that, in most cases, abusers are quite capable of exercising control over themselves, but choose not to do so for various reasons.
Sometimes, one person seeks complete power and control over their partner and uses different ways to achieve this, including resorting to physical violence. The perpetrator attempts to control all aspects of the victim’s life, such as their social, personal, professional and financial decisions .
Questions of power and control are integral to the widely utilized Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project. They developed a “Power and Control Wheel” to illustrate this: it has power and control at the center, surrounded by spokes (techniques used), the titles of which include: coercion and threats, intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, minimizing, denying and blaming, using children, economic abuse, and privilege (Figure 1).
Critics of this model argue that it ignores research linking domestic violence to substance abuse and psychological problems. Some modern research into the patterns in domestic violence has found that women are more likely to be physically abusive towards their partner in relationships in which only one partner is violent, which draws the effectiveness of using concepts like male privilege to treat domestic violence into question. Some modern research into predictors of injury from domestic violence suggests that the strongest predictor of injury by domestic violence is participation in reciprocal domestic violence .
Another theory linked with domestic violence is the nonsubordination theory, sometimes called dominance theory, which is an area of feminist legal theory that focuses on the power differential between men and women. Nonsubordination theory takes the position that society, and more especially men in society, use sex differences between men and women to perpetuate this power imbalance. Unlike other topics within feminist legal theory, nonsubordination theory focuses specifically on certain sexual behaviors, including control of women’s sexuality, sexual harassment, pornography, and violence against women generally. Though nonsubordination theory has been discussed at great length in evaluating various forms of sexual violence against women, it also serves as a basis for understanding domestic violence and why it occurs. Nonsubordination theory tackles the issue of domestic violence as a subset of the broader problem of violence against women because domestic violence victims are overwhelmingly female .
Proponents of nonsubordination theory propose several reasons why it works best to explain domestic violence. First, there are certain recurring patterns in domestic violence that indicate it is not the result of intense anger or arguments, but rather is a form of subordination. This is evidenced in part by the fact that domestic violence victims are typically abused in a variety of situations and by a variety of means. For example, victims are sometimes beaten after they have been sleeping or have been separated from the batterer, and often the abuse takes on a financial or emotional form in addition to physical abuse. Supporters of nonsubordination theory use these examples to dispel the notion that battering is always the result of heat of the moment anger or intense arguments .
A good example of how power and control can end a marriage and make a woman suffer enormously is the case of Eleonora Pokola, a domestic violence survivor and an icon for many women in Cluj-Napoca and Romania.
By Raluca Costea, Stefana Palade and Xiaotian Li
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